Helen Scales

P1010258

Rain

Yesterday I saw rain for the second time in 2 months. The first time was 6 weeks ago when there was a strange shower that lasted thirty seconds as we ate dinner outside at our guest house. We heard an unfamiliar noise and looked across to see the swimming pool jumping with raindrops. The second time was very different. That was proper, rainy-season-is-on-its way rain.

When we climbed into the bus heading along Gambia’s tiny Atlantic coast the skies were still uninterrupted blue as they’ve been more or less since I arrived here. But as we trundled north, the atmosphere began to shift, grey clouds piled up ahead and behind us.

“It’s going to rain isn’t it?”

The annual rainfall in the Gambia is about the same as it is in my hometown. The only difference is in Cambridge it rains all year round – or at least it can – and in the Gambia the rain mostly falls in just two months, July and August.

That evening, as we sat eating undercover, watching dramatic lightening bolts slicing up the sky outside, and we pondered which we’d prefer: would you choose Cambridge weather, when it could rain any time; or would you choose the torrential predictability of the Gambia?

We decided that if we were farmers, we’d go for the Cambridge option. Very little of the Gambia is irrigated so most agriculture relies on what falls from the sky, making for a very short, intense growing season. Being mini-farmers in our own way, we’ll see what’s been going on at our allotment while we’ve been away, but since it seems to have rained pretty much the all the way through April, I expect things will be okay.

But then again, living in the UK, we have that added excitment of never being too sure what the weather will do next. It’s why we like so much to talk about the weather. British weather always keeps us guessing. Out here, weather conversations are pretty dull for most of the year: sunny again today? Yep.

Until it rains, then suddenly everything changes. We watched our fellow bus passengers peer through the steamed up windows, looking worried about the wet dash home that awaited them. A few people were prepared and had umbrellas with them. Everyone else had to submit to a drenching. The sea turned dark and seemed to lean towards us as we drove past.

Tomorrow is my last day in West Africa for now at least. My Gambian storm and those peculiar grey skies have been good preparation for what lies ahead. I’ve grown complacent with the hot and bright days, with the colourful birds, the great food, and friendly people. But it’ll be good to be back home again.

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